The accuracy of numbers in China has long been a source of some contention, but this is especially true of the internet sector. Given that most of these firms rely on advertising to make revenues, it’s vital that they have, or at least appear to have, high user traffic and page views.
"It is true that numbers can be manipulated. I think the main mistake many people make is comparing web statistics with print and television," said Paul Denlinger, who leads the initiative for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in China.
The good news is that the larger an internet firm becomes, the more difficult it is to inflate their numbers. And monitors have grown savvier at detecting manipulation with advanced tools. The bad news is that data from China is "dirtier" than from the US and identifying the value of a site’s users is more a matter of art than science. User numbers or page views are but one reference point that must be taken into account. What follows are a few ground rules and tricks of the trade.
Fake names: A single user can join a website multiple times from email accounts that are used once and never used again. Some estimates say that a "scrubbing" of these user databases can eliminate up to 60% of registered users in China.
Fraudulent clicks: In pay-for-performance advertising a seller only pays for an ad each time a user clicks on it. But the people who sold you an ad can click on your advertisement in order to boost their commission. Competitors can also make clicks in the hope of increasing your advertising spending, according to one tech consultant.
Router hacking: Hackers can gain access to routers and cause them to generate fake IP addresses and make requests to a website.